Sunday, April 11, 2010

It's Songkran: Happy Thai New Year!

This is the season of Thai New Year, or Songkran, and Himself and I went to festivals both this weekend and last, to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy some really good walking around food. As I said in a blog entry after my recent trip to Thailand, the Thai are big on snacks, so going to a Songkran festival means lots of opportunities for incredibly good munching.
Meat on a stick is wildly popular, just like it is at your average American festival and fair. We got (left to right) shrimp balls, Thai sausage, squid balls and chicken. These treats don't sit around under heat lamps for hours, growing funky as they wait for someone to buy them. They're fresh and hot when you get them--which sometimes means a little wait. But it's fun talking with others in line and finding out what they're ordering and what their favorites are. The Thai sausage is my favorite--and the rate at which it sells out tells me it must be everyone else's favorite, too.
Papaya salad is tricky stuff. After you've had enough hot food you think, "Mmm, papaya salad. That ought to cool off my burning mouth." And if you think that, you're wrong! Papaya salad will make you cry for your mama. It's really good, crisp and refreshing--made from unripe papaya--but it can be punishingly hot. Considering how hot and muggy it gets in Thailand (think New Orleans in August), it's all about natural air conditioning--eat hot food, sweat and cool off. That wedge of cabbage to the upper right helps you cope with the salad's heat.
 We sampled plenty of sweets, too. The deep yellow you see in everything is made of egg yolk, a component of many Thai desserts (don't tell your doctor!).
These tiny pancakes are filled with a paste made of pandan leaves, green tea and coconut, then rolled.

The longest line we saw was not for snacks or papaya salad--although, believe it or not, papaya salad has quite a devoted following--but for crates of mangoes. Those smaller, gold ones that we call champagne mangoes here in the States--and pay dearly for--are one of the basic varieties of mangoes in Thailand, and the one Thais seem to miss most, hence the long, patient line.
 It wasn't all about the food, though. We stopped by and visited our friends at the Thai Tourism Authority and made the ritual observance, pouring water over the Buddha to bring good luck and prosperity in the coming year.
They presented us with wrist garlands called puang malai. I got really spoiled receiving these garlands while in Thailand. They're lovely and fresh and incredibly fragrant, made of rose buds, jasmine, gardenias and crown flowers. So nice to have in the car, in your hotel room or hanging from your wrist.

The incense wafting from the temple and from various altars scattered about the festival reminded me of those boat trips up and down the Chao Phraya River which runs through the middle of Bangkok. While the river is quite wide, so abundant was the incense being burned in temples on either side--and so numerous were the temples--that we could smell it all the way out in the middle!
The beauty pageant brought out some of the loveliest women I've ever seen. I'd certainly hate to be a judge at this pageant--what an impossible job! The variety of dress and adornment was as dazzling as the women themselves. (Notice the Latin food market in the background--and Thai Town interlaces with Little Armenia, too. LA truly is an international city.)
Every time we see these performers at Thai celebrations around Los Angeles, their routines and costumery are increasingly outrageous--but a lot of fun. Check out those huge boots beneath the pink flounces! Trippy, really trippy!

 Even more peculiar to me was the Thai woman in street clothes who hopped up on stage and sang "In Them Ol' Cotton Fields Back Home." Having come from the cotton fields of the South (while not specifically from Louisiana, as the song relates), I experienced quite a disconnect hearing it performed in this setting.

One reason I wanted to go to this second festival was because I found out there would be vendors selling Thai plants, and I've wanted a kaffir lime tree for a really long time.
Himself got the honor of toting the tree to the car. He was just a wee bit perturbed that I chose that moment to stop him in front of the temple for a picture. What?! Why wouldn't he want to pose whilst holding a tree?! More on kaffir lime later. Himself cautions me against making these blog entries too long. I just get carried away...!

1 comment:

mr. pineapple man said...

ooh i love thailand! looks like u had a great time!